Stretching Season

Hey beautiful dreamers,

I’ve been out of contact or a lot of reasons – long story short, this fall parenting has taken more of my energy than anticipated, and my plan to offer a lot of free webinars and launch an expanded round of the Creative Magic Workout in October got knocked to the ground like cheerios from the hand of an exuberant toddler, which is mostly a metaphor and also a pretty literal description of my day to day life.

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I’ve been a bit lost, in a bit of a dark place – a place where my trolls take over and drive out my sense of humor and incite a stewing toxic jealousy about everyone but me who has their life figured out. My poor wretched trolls, with their either/or thinking and their helpless rage. YOU ARE A LOSER. EASY FOR HER, SHE CAN BE A WINNER BECAUSE HAS EVERYTHING. (It’s no accident that my trolls sound a lot like Trump supporters).

When I’m lost and overtaken by my trolls, it feels like I’m out of control. I forget that I am the one who decides, that I am at the helm of this ship, that I can change course if I want to. Life feels overwhelming, unmanageable, something that happens to me, like projectile vomiting in the middle of the night (another metaphor drawn from my recent experience).

This feeling sucks, obviously. Let’s not sugar coat it. It’s hard. At the same time, it’s instructive.

It’s instructive because it is a feeling – an internal state – not objective reality. The thing I’m wrestling with is 100% in my head.

And knowing that is really helpful. I can feel the trolls taking over, but they have not totally taken over. I am aware of them. I know that the things they are saying are not true, even though they feel true.

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It’s also instructive because in that moment of overwhelm, when it feels like I’m trying to pull off the impossible, when I’m making dinner even though I cannot possibly make dinner, I can feel my brain and body stretching. I can feel the gulf between what needs to be done and my ability to do it, and I bridge that gulf and do it anyway.

My parents were in town and my Dad said on two different occasions I was muttering to myself, I don’t know what to do here, I don’t know what to do. That moment when you are suspended in the not knowing: that is what I’m talking about. That is when the growth happens. And that is also when I burst out laughing because what else can you do, when your kid has an attack of diarrhea in the parking lot and in the scramble to remove clothing and clean up the poop and wrap him in a baby blanket and get him in the car without anyone noticing, you step in the poop.

There is just something so GROUNDING about stepping in poop. And I am laughing as I say this but I am also dead serious. This is the grounding, grinding poetry of my everyday life, the way it stretches and stops me, the way it helps me laugh at myself.

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With that laughter comes space, comes distance, comes relief. The trolls step back and I remember that I am okay, this is a moment in time and it will pass, that help is all around me if I choose to see it. I am not the only person dealing with a sick kid! As Byron Katie says: other than what I’m thinking and believing, am I okay?

There’s a primal call to all this, a drumbeat of THIS SUCKS, an I CAN’T, a WHY ME that vibrates through my body as I remember how to laugh, as I remember how to feel like myself. It’s not about resisting that drumbeat. It’s about giving in to it, saying it out loud – OH MY GOD THIS SUUUUUUCKS – and then laughing as I give in to it.

I wipe the poop off my shoe and get my kid home and in the bath and into his pajamas and now he’s asleep (and so is his brother) and I make some tea and write this to you. Telling you about the tiny ways I find to survive. The poems I jot down, the shows I dream up, the ballots I cast, the ways I get clear.

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I am not offering the Creative Magic Workout this fall. I might in the spring. I might put it together differently. For now, I’m embracing the unknowing, the undoing, the unraveling. I’m choosing it. I resisted at first and then my body made it clear: that’s not what this fall is about.

I’m going to offer 1:1 sessions and have as many conversations as I can instead. I want to hear about what is blocking and trolling and demanding too much from you.

I also might start working on a show / book – I have been remembering that three years ago, that’s how I found my way out of the fog and reorganized my creative universe, by making a show about my questions.

This time my questions have something to do with the power of apology and atonement and reparations, with fragility and white flight and escape, with truth and reconciliation and songs about Saturn and joyfully upending fascism like dandelions busting through the sidewalk.

I will work on it the way I’ve learned to since becoming a mother: jotting down the ideas I have in the shower, writing in my iphone at 3am, inviting people to come and look at what I’ve made even though it’s a mess, drawing the costume I imagine and waiting for it to find me. Actually, this happened in reverse this summer when I found this incredible teal dress suit at my neighbor’s garage sale – I am waiting for its purpose to reveal itself:

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And the hardest, most important part: remembering that my creative work is vital and worthy of dedicated time and space.

Thank you for listening as I work my way through the darkness and richness and paradox.

I hope you are finding your way too.

 


p.s. It is not lost on me that EXACTLY a year ago I wrote a post almost exactly like this one. I don’t know what to make of that but it is evidence that what goes around, comes around, and that what you learned before will come in handy again in the future. 

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Who is your failure hero?

Prince, of course, has been on my mind. It’s great to have heroes who show us what is possible – who shine like a beacon blazing a supernatural path*.

But I’ve been thinking — it’s also good to have heroes who show you what it looks like to stumble. Who blaze a trail of shit so you can say, hey, look at them – they made an ass of themselves, and I love them anyway.

So today I would like to encourage you to think about someone whose failure inspires you. Someone who has done something messy or ill advised or wrongheaded or ridiculous —  and despite all this, or maybe BECAUSE of it, they spoke to you.

For me, one of my failure heroes is Neil Young. He has many beautiful albums, but he also has some terrifically bad ones. One my favorites is Sleeps with Angels**. Half the songs on that album are transcendent and beautiful, and the other half fall flat. I don’t know why, but this is what makes it my favorite. It makes me feel like I know him. It lets me into his process. It lets me appreciate the easy magic of the beautiful songs even more.

Another hero for me is Jean Auel, the author of the Clan of the Cave Bear series. No disrespect to her, but each book is like 800 pages long, the characters repeat themselves, the moral lessons are easy to spot  and there are long, flowery, detailed sex scenes. I hope it doesn’t sound like I am criticizing her books because I LOVE them. I love that they exist in the world exactly as they are. They resonate with me and fill me with delight even as I am aware of how clunky they are.

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(This is not the first time I’ve asked, what would Ayla do?)

Is there someone or something like this for you – something ridiculous or shlocky or embarrassing that you love?

Study it, and take some lessons from it. What challenges could you take on from your hero?

For me, I can think of a few:

  • I could make an album of bad songs
  • I could go to an open mic and accompany myself on the 3 chords I kind of know how to play on guitar
  • I could sing covers of only the bad Neil Young songs
  • I could map out a novel of my ideal fantasy world
  • I could create a character who is a stand in for my ideals
  • I could let myself write a blog post that goes on way too long and says the same thing over and over
  • I could add a terrible sex scene to that post
  • Or I could come up with a series and every post in that series is a variation on the same thing. Like I could make this a series – the Failure Hero series – and just keep writing the same post over and over

What ideas do your failure heroes inspire for you? I would love to hear! (And if you want someone to help you embrace failure like the glorious hero that YOU are, contact me to set up a navigation session. It’s my offer of support and encouragement as you set out on your journey.)

footnotes:

* of course, it’s also good to remember that Prince did not feel like everything he did was a success. Apparently he thought he made an ass of himself in this incredible moment with James Brown and Michael Jackson – whereas I see someone effortlessly taking command of the stage and transforming it with ridiculous, sexy confidence. You never know how people are responding to what you think is a huge failure.

** this is weird: I am writing this in a coffee shop, and as I paused to gaze off into space and decide which album of Neil Young’s was my favorite, Razor Love came on.

SXSW recap: stories and tacos and dirty dancing, oh my!

Whoooooo boy. I got back to Portland a week ago, after almost a week in glorious Austin, Texas for the huge, sprawling cascade of ideas that is SXSW Interactive.

I’m still trying to figure out what the hell happened, and I thought it would be a good idea to do this publicly.

First of all, this happened:

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I led my crazy workshop, Creative Living in an Alternate World! It happened! People attended! We created alter egos and dream projects, we bragged about what we suck at, and we danced badly!

I can’t tell you how nervous I felt 30 minutes before. But here is the power of an alter ego: I put on that electric blue jumpsuit and headband and stepped into the room totally confident in my ridiculous abilities.

Confidence, as I’ve written before, is a moving target — but that doesn’t mean you can’t get better at channeling it when you need to.

So I feel pretty great about the workshop. It was not perfect, and there are things I’d do better next time — I’d do less exercises and take more time with them, and I would go ahead and embrace power point instead of dragging my easel and laminated Stevie Wonder poster around with me.

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But all in all, I prepared as much as I could, and the things I learned, I could only learn by jumping in and doing it.

And when I talk about embracing failure, that’s what I mean. I don’t mean that you don’t prepare or that you toss off something you care about. I mean, you train as best you can, but when it’s game time, you step in and play the game, ready or not. Because you love it, and you’d rather play and lose than not play.

Is this metaphor working? Maybe this one is better: you run every day, and on the day of the race, you run the marathon. And you come in last. The next day, you get up and keep running.

I like sports metaphors because they have a built in high drama structure. Life isn’t always so clear cut — you can’t always tell when you’re winning and losing or where the finish line is.

And in this case, to be honest with you, I’m not sure if doing my workshop at SXSW Interactive was the best fit. The workshop itself went great, but navigating the rest of the festival was exhausting. Kind of an introvert’s nightmare, and my attempts to live it up and party (in the McDonalds Lounge) proved fruitless.

There were amazing moments of insight though, like Brene Brown’s talk about vulnerability and applying the Shitty First Draft concept to our thoughts (which helped me reign in my social anxiety and question it lovingly and turn it around.)

Kate Hayward and Natalie Currie led a fantastic session on reframing networking as storytelling and listening, complete with this visual note-taker:

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And I went to a beautiful workshop led by filmmaker Amy Hardie around the themes in her documentary, Seven Songs for a Long Life (which I didn’t get to see, but hopefully will soon!) She had us pair up and ask each other four questions:

  1. What counts as a good day?
  2. What qualities would you like to be remembered for?
  3. What actions do you take that express those qualities?
  4. If you were given a life-limiting diagnosis today, would you change those actions?

Simple questions but INTENSE, man! Maybe it’s because I was on day 5 away from my family, but I ended up crying with the person I partnered up with (who it turned out was the music director for the film), then cried again when we all sang a song from the film together.

I was also surprised to realize that my answer to question #4 was: I wouldn’t change much. I have made some big changes in my life over the last two years, and for the most part (give or take some money anxiety here and some sleep frustration there) I am doing exactly what I want to be doing on a daily basis.

Speaking of which, my big fear — that leaving my son with my husband for SIX DAYS would be a nightmare and they’d be traumatized upon my return — proved to be entirely unfounded. They did fine. I did fine. My fears, as they so often are, were entirely in my imagination.

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that’s me and my boy

And you know what? For all my questions and mixed feelings, here is what I know: when I submitted my proposal to SXSW Interactive nine months ago, the failure I thought I was risking was how to make a big proposal and get rejected. Then when they accepted my proposal, I thought the failure would be having no one show up, or having it totally bomb.

But it turns out, none of those things happened. By risking failure, I stepped up my game and did something I did not think I was ready for: I flew by myself to a huge conference and got a roomful of strangers to put down their phones and dance wildly to Dueling Banjos.

Someone else wrote about their experience of my workshop over on The Verge:

We were told to envision the perfect world for our alter ego to exist in, and to imagine being very happy there. Then we were told to “breathe that vision out into the world; drop it; don’t make it happen.” We came up with projects we would never do, character flaws we would never try to correct, and people we didn’t feel like apologizing to.

And:

My favorite thing about Faith was that she yelled “DOES ANYONE WANT TO DO THE DIRTY DANCING LIFT WITH ME?”

Even though no one did the lift with me, something about this makes me proud of myself for standing confidently in the power of my weird ideas.

What would my alter ego do?

One of the things I love about acting is being able to step into and out of an alter ego.

I learned a long time ago that one way for me to be confident was to “play” someone confident onstage.

It took me a lot longer to figure out that I could use the same principle in my life offstage: that if I went into a situation with the right outfit / mantra / alter ego / attitude, I could fake my way into confidence.

I only learned this once life (in my case, having a baby) forced me to build a life outside the theater – and learning it is what propelled me to channel my theatre training into coaching. 

I tested this idea in my own life over the last month, as I performed my manifesto in the persona of a character who is basically me in a spectacular jumpsuit.

The outfit took on a life of its own, and to live up to the image it projected, I became another version of myself: someone who is sharper, bolder, more confident in her weirdness.

You can try this too, and you don’t have to go onstage to do it.

You can create an alter ego that is another version of yourself: stronger, clearer, more spaced out, softer, meaner, louder, grungier. It’s not about being better. It’s about what you learn about yourself when you step into another character. (Those of you who have children, or who remember your own childhoods, have probably seen this with your own eyes: when we’re little, we figure out who we are by pretending to be something else).

You can use this alter ego to test out what you want, what you think, what you fear, what you hate, what you think you’re capable of. You might be surprised by what you find out. (For example, I was very surprised to find out in the course of making my show that I love new age woo woo stuff once you take out the element of control, domination, betterment and perfection).

To create your own alter ego, here’s a good way to start:

  1. NAME
  2. OUTFIT
  3. MANTRA

I’ll walk you through it:

1. PICK A NAME

  • Look around until a random object catches your eye (here are some examples from where I’m sitting right now: stool, skeleton, iron, rainboots).
  • Pick a nickname you or someone you knew had in childhood (examples from people I know: Face, Boo, Kaa, Jaja).
  • Put the two names together (examples: Stool Face, Skeleton Boo, Kaa Iron, Jaja Rainboots). Voila! You’ve got an alter ego.

2. DRAW A TWO MINUTE SELF PORTRAIT OF YOUR ALTER EGO  

  • Set the timer for two minutes
  • Write the name on a piece of paper
  • Draw a picture of that character
  • Color it in with crayons or markers or a weird red pen

3. FREEWRITE FOR TWO MINUTES

  • Set the timer for two minutes again
  • Write what you see in the picture you drew
  • You could also answer these questions: Who is this person? What are their superpowers? What is their kryptonite? Where do they come from? What are they wearing? Who are they protecting? Who are they fighting? What car do they drive?
  • Look back over what you wrote, and circle 5-6 words that stand out to you.
  • Write those words in a list, then mess around with them until they become something like a mantra. It doesn’t have to make sense, but it needs to speak to you.

When I did this at our workshop last week, here’s what I came up with:

DURA-FLAME WAITHY

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Looking into the distance, wearing a cape of flame

So now what? What do you do with this alter ego?

I’ll tell you what: you practice stepping into those shoes. You channel it at boring parties or endless meetings or conversations at the grocery store. When you need to speak up, you think, what would my alter ego say? When you aren’t sure what to do, you ask, what would my alter ego do? And when you’re at a thrift store, you ask, what would my alter ego wear? And if you’re brave, you buy that piece of clothing and you wear it out in public and see what happens.

That’s enough to get you started! Let me know what you find out.

(And if you want to go deeper with this, come to the next Creative Living workshop or sign up for my 6-week coaxing program)

Try this: Invent your own superhero

This past Sunday, we had a lovely workshop on the theme of alternate worlds / alternate lives. There were only two of us (it’s hard to compete with a warm sunny day in Portland), but we inhabited our alter-egos (Lightbulb Helmet and Craesie Fleur) with aplomb.

If you’d like to do some world shaking on your own time, I invite you to try one of the exercises we did in the workshop: invent your own superhero.

Step 1: Get some paper and a pen, sit down and close your eyes. Let the image of a superhero float into your mind.

Step 2: Jot down answers to these questions (don’t think about them — write the first things that come to mind):

  • What is their superpower?
  • Where did they come from — what is their origin story?
  • What is their fatal flaw or weakness?
  • What kind of outfit do they wear?
  • What vehicle do they drive?
  • Who are their helpers?
  • Who are their enemies — who are they fighting?
  • What are they fighting for?
  • Who are they protecting?

Step 3: Draw a picture of your superhero based on what you wrote down.

Step 4: What is your superhero’s name? Do they have a catchphrase?

Splendid! Now if you want to, share your superhero with us on facebook! I would love to meet them.

Here’s mine:

JET DIAMOND

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Jet Diamond was born in a coal mine. Her mother was 9 months pregnant and working in the mine when it collapsed. They thought everyone was dead, but when the rubble cleared, Old Man Winters walked out with a canary on one arm and a newborn baby in the other. He adopted the baby girl and named her Jet Diamond. Right away he noticed that she had laser sharp eyesight, and as she grew, her ability to see through dust and hypocrisy grew stronger.

She wears all black glittering with diamonds, and is accompanied always by her canary, Blink.

She is extremely sensitive to coaldust and can only spend a little time in dusty, murky environments before the air gets to be too much for her lungs.

She rides in on her jet black motorcycle, sees through the shams and shoddy deals constructed by rich men, and helps the workers see what they can’t see and stand up for their rights.

Then she rides out of town so fast a thunderstorm can’t keep up with her.

Bonus step: If this superhero were to show up at your door for an emergency meeting, what would they need to tell you? Would they need your help? Would they have some advice for you? Would they alert you to danger?

I imagine Jet Diamond riding up after she’s had a long, tough battle. She’s worn out, and afraid she isn’t up for the challenge anymore. I make her a cup of tea and have her tell me the whole story. Then I tell her she needs to take a break and go easy, and she insists there isn’t time for that and she needs to save the world, but then she falls asleep on the couch and I take off her boots and lay a nice cozy blanket over her.

Aside from the fact that this scene that plays out in probably every movie ever made about a superhero (and I am casting myself in the faithful butler role), what does this tell me about my own life? Maybe I’m taking myself a little too seriously. Maybe the best thing to do is take a nap. Maybe I get a little carried away with the desire to save people and be the hero. It’s okay to take a break. It’s okay to do things just because you feel like doing them. It’s okay to let other take care of me sometimes. Or even better, to take care of myself.

But who knows, maybe next week I’ll see a whole different message.

Extra bonus round: using the exact same prompts in step 2, invent a supervillain.


Hey there! Is this right up your alley? If you’re in Portland, you can come to one of my free Sunday morning workshops and experience it firsthand! Or if you want to go deep, you can join a Creative Workout Group, or work with me one-on-one

Living in an alternate world

I am a big fan of speculative fiction — and I could easily write a long, long post about the rabbit hole of internet fascinations that appear when you google that term — but long story short, it’s because books and films and television set in another world or time give us a chance to step out of our actual lives and engage our imaginations. When we do that, we open up to possibilities in our present, actual world that we could not see before.

“God damn you all to hell!”

Or, as TV Tropes eloquently puts it:

One of the greatest strengths of Sci-Fi and Fantasy is that they can convey real-life situations in a new context by showing everyday problems, humanity’s greatest challenges, and even social commentary that’s ostensibly free of the prejudices and preconceptions that weigh them down in Real Life, giving us a more detached view of a given problem… as if we were aliens visiting Earth, or rather Earthlings visiting World of Weirdness.

In a way, it’s similar to why I got into acting when I was a kid. I was shy, but when I stepped onstage I could step into another persona (for instance: this one), and access parts of myself that had previously been unknown. That’s something any actor does: they put on a costume and do their hair and step into a heightened space, and become someone else for a while. I think this is something we could all benefit from doing.

In fact, we all do it a little bit: we get a radical haircut to jumpstart a big change in life, we apply darker, bolder makeup for going out at night, or we step into one persona for work, and then another one when we get home and change out of our work clothes.

I thought it would be fun to take this a step further, to stretch our brains and bodies and see what might be hanging around in our unconscious. So on Sunday I’m leading a workshop exploring alternate worlds and alternate lives. We’ll draw pictures of our alter egos, imagine our superhero and supervillain selves (and more importantly, their outfits), recreate/revise a seminal moment from our past, create a new world, and apply sci fi tropes like “gone horribly right” or “the [adjectival] man” to our personal lives.

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I am very curious to find out what happens. It raises so many questions and I can’t wait to see how we answer them on our feet: if you could invent a new world, what would it look like? What keeps us from inventing that world now? What can you learn by embodying your opposite self? What can you learn by embodying your worst or best traits, by taking them to their furthest extreme? If you changed one thing in your past, what else might change?

Come by and find out with me! Details are here.